His breaths ragged, insides set alight, Edward coughed vehemently, spitting out a mixture of blood and phlegm on his handkerchief. He knew his end was near, it was inevitable. He could see it all around him, in the eyes of his wife, of his doctor, even his butler looked slightly uneasy. Perhaps death was what he yearned for, an unquenched desire. He was not afraid; in fact he was ready to embrace death, rather like an old friend with whom he had to catch up on. Anything was welcome to him if it promised an end to his turmoil of anguish, and, more recently in life, bitter remorse.
He rested his head against his pillow, eyes falling on his wife seated across him. A fortnight ago Elizabeth had occupied the very same seat, but the girl of his memories was now the queen of his nation. She certainly lived up to the criteria of being a member of the House of Windsor, to being British royalty. She fared well with her position and status; with her husband Phillip and their son Charles, they seemed to present a respectable image, exuding a regal charm. Rather in contrast to himself, he reflected bitterly.
He was aged seventy-seven, approaching seventy-eight. Perhaps the time was long past gone for regrets and reminiscing. He had chosen his path, he had set the course of his own life by paving his own way and drifting apart from the route originally designated for him. He had long known he was a disgrace to the Royal family, and he bitterly indulged in that knowledge now, but all he ever wanted was love, a feeling of personally belonging to someone. He had given everything to attain that feeling, and it had not seemed such a great price at the time. Alas, happiness he now knew came with a price. No one could be profoundly happy without losing something first; it was the way of nature.
‘Your Royal Highness, return in here right this moment or else you shall not be ready in time. What a horrible mess you have made of your clothes, nearly resembling any common ruffian! Come along now, you must be washed and get dressed. You parents are returning home by supper and you shall not be presented until you are spic and span.’ A middle-aged, portly woman bearing down on him from above in formed him sharply.
‘Yes nana, but can I please get some cake first?’ The handsome young boy barely aged 6 asked his nanny.
‘Cake? Again? Absolutely not. Tea only just finished’ she cried out in an exasperated tone. ‘And besides, you would make another mess. Come along now’ she added sharply after turning yet another disapproving glance at the front of his shirt and tugged him along by the elbow.
His nanny was true to her promise of scrubbing him hard. His pale face was bright red where the sponge had been used too roughly to clean the invisible speck of mud visible only to her.
Dressing him up, she took him to the parlor where he heard his parents’ voices from the adjacent hall.
‘Mother, father!’ He cried out with delight and prepared to run out to his parents who had been on yet another official tour, this one lasting nearly seven weeks. Edward had sorely missed them. Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder and he wished to spend every moment with his parents on the rare occasions they were home.
‘Not just yet,’ his nanny called out. ‘How many times must I tell you to not create a racket? Your parents require rest, not another headache. Mind you, I will be watching. I want you to go about to them greet them in a polite manner and gently’ she stressed on the last word while pinching his left cheek, ‘ and do not jump about or raise your voice in an uncouth manner’ she said as she noticed him wincing.
After he promised to behave, she let him and his brothers meet his parents. It was a rather formal meeting, Her royal highness Queen Mary giving each of her sons a brief hug and retiring to her bedroom-chamber in the arms of her husband.
Thinking back, he realized his desire for love was already there since he was a child. His childhood was not a happy one. He wanted a family but all he got was the company of servants complying with his every wish. Of course he did understand that his parents loved him, and he did enjoy their company, even if his father was a disciplinarian and his mother a little overbearing. The problem mostly was that he could only be remembered being raised by a succession of nannies and then shipped off to military school. His life had been a design, after school and the First World War, he was sent to Oxford, and then he was simply expected to carry out duties for his father until he would ascend to the throne. It was this pomp, this grotesque formality, these iron-clad, unbreakable rules that did not appeal to him. His great-grandmother Queen Victoria, his grand parents, and his parents before and after becoming King and Queen all had too many duties to attend to and they consequently neglected their children personally.
His later years were a whirlpool of memories. Traveling the country and the globe officially representing his father, he used the opportunity to spend nights with beautiful ladies who shamelessly threw themselves over him, attracted by his handsome features and the seductive charm he exuded.
His father, he remembered, was worried and the parliament shocked by the ‘outrageous behavior’ of the future heir to the throne. There was an increasing rift between him and his father who sorely disapproved of his social activities. He, however, had been adamant. He had served well in the army and navy and his personal life was of no concern, especially since it had not been of concern when he had been younger and easily kept away in the care of others.
He once overheard his father confiding to his mother ’I pray to god that my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Albert and Elizabeth and the throne’.
His father’s words had stung him. He struggled with them, looked to reform himself, but as time went by he slipped further and further down his life of prolonged adolescence; affairs ranging from fellow members of royalty to the wives of industrialists, the house his father gave him became famous for the parties he threw and the women he met there.
But, be as it may, it was then, in 1931 when he met his future wife and his love, Wallis, at one such party. He remembered the day quite clearly; Wallis resplendent in a striking red dress, bringing out her with eyes and accentuating her curves. He became infatuated with her and soon it grew into something far deeper; love. Love, which he had found with a divorced American socialite. Of course, that description meant nothing to him. Shifting his pillow, Edward relished the years he had spent with Wallis.
Another day he remembered quite clearly was January 20, 1936, when his father, then King George the fifth, had passed away. Edward’s grief was beyond the entire household. He grieved more for himself than his father since all the responsibilities that he deplored had been thrust upon him.
His short 10-month reign met with criticism from all, he had wanted to be a modern Monarch. He knew that his ideologies differed from his predecessors and implementing them made increasingly unpopular. He bore it, but then Wallis’s second divorce was finalized and he expressed his desire to marry her. He found, of course, his government would not support the idea and it contradicted his title as the Head of Church of England. When, his proposition of a morganatic marriage was also not accepted, he had not been left with any choice. It had been culminating and was a notorious affair. Ending his relationship was out of question. He had decided to abdicate his throne, but not, he reflected, to everyone’s shock and dismay, he decided to marry her. He had compromised enough already, he wouldn’t give up the one thing he had struggled to have, love. On December 10 in the same year he abdicated. Wallis soon acquired divorce and they married.
His brother gave him the title of ‘Duke of Windsor.’
Wallis however, was neither bestowed with the honor of any titles nor styles Her Highness, and, worst of all, not even accepted, despite his desperate pleas to his own family, and the injustice of it still pained him.
Exiled from Britain he took up residence in France and relations between him and his family were strained. The government refused to issue a stipend and he turned to his brother for pecuniary matters. Thinking back, it filled him with guilt for exploiting so much money from his brother, which he had often done, in not the most moral of ways.
Then came the Second World War when he met Hitler. He was accused for being pro-Nazi and for thwarting the attempts of the British army against Germany. The fact that he was not pro-Nazi but admired their valor was blatantly ignored; no one bothered to hear him out or value his opinions.
His later life was once again, a blur of memories. Relations with Wallis became strained when he found out she had slept with the German Commander in London. He then spent his time writing articles and engaging in social gatherings with his wife to block-out the whirlpool of emotions threatening to build up and overflow.
Relations between his mother and himself had deteriorated to such an extent that it was impossible for them to communicate with each other. She felt it had been useless to throw away his future for Wallis. She never accepted her, but he himself met her and his brother a few times. He even attended his brother’s funeral where he was received coolly, and watched the next royal function, his niece Elizabeth’s coronation, from television in France.
He turned down many invitations by his niece. It was too late to reconcile, too much had happened to simply forget and move on.
As he wiped his brows, he thought of the regrets stirring up. There were so many ‘what ifs’ in his life. His entire course of life would have been so very different if he had decided to let go of Wallis. He had never regretted his decision until now when it hit him straight in the chest. He had given up everything as his mother had said, but he never received the complete end of the bargain. He had no true family, no true love. Wallis and he, though bound by the sacred institution of matrimony were poles apart, the distance increasing. The price he had paid was too great and in the end, he had been at a loss. His life was nothing but a list of failures, an abyss of despair. He had disgraced his family, disgraced the House of Windsor because of his foolish desires.
Perhaps it was the fault of his stars. He had had every worldly thing people demanded, wealth, throne, a beautiful wife, fame, popularity but the one thing they took for granted was love; the very thing he had always struggled for.
It was too late to change anything; it was too late to seek reconciliation, to repent. He would accept everything as he had, he, of all people, would take things as they were in the most stoic of fashions. Endurance and forbearance were essential when all other doors were closed. He had chosen his path, made his own destiny by straying on the unpaved way, choosing to ignore the path already set out for him, one which promised him splendor, respect and perhaps love of a nation. He would never know what that path held for him.
He knew it was time; it had been a long life, one filled with regrets and remorse for his own actions. However tonight, he knew it was time to rest, to let go, to acquire peace and tranquility. There would be no more regrets. He would sleep like a baby overcome with fatigue, ready to let go. With that, Edward laid his head and slept, never to wake up again, never to contemplate if he had chosen the right path once again.